Bessie's story - alternative futures and the use of technology

It’s 7.30 am. Bessie normally is always up to make a cup of tea and take it back to bed. But for the last three or four days she has not been feeling that well. She has been sleeping badly. But nobody knows so nobody cares.

She has had more restless nights – getting up to go to the loo several times. But nobody knows so nobody cares.

As she eventually gets out of bed she notices her ankles are more swollen than usual, she feels wobbly and tired. But nobody knows so nobody cares.
Bessie normally has a rough routine to the day. Tea in bed, let the Yorkie out for a sniff and a wee at the same time. Up around 8.30 toast and maybe a boiled egg. But for the last few days she has forgotten to let the dog out with inevitable consequences. And she finds that she is forgetting to buy more milk – not enough for her tea and for the Yorkie’s breakfast. But nobody knows so nobody cares.

She has to sit down on the bed again to stop her head swimming. But she is made of tough stuff. She gets there in the end. But nobody knows so nobody cares.

Today is Wednesday – Bessie normally does her shopping today. Down to the corner shop, chat with Mrs Desai. Pick up her favourite knitting pattern magazine. Maybe a treat – chocolate tea cakes. But she does not feel like it much today. Actually Mrs Desai does notice but thinks she might wait a day and see if Bessie comes in – maybe she is feeling a bit off today. Otherwise nobody notices so nobody else cares.

Bessie does not feel much like lunch. A cup of tea and a biscuit will do. She does not really notice that her hands are trembling more than usual and that the kettle feels more difficult to lift. Maybe just too much water in it today. But nobody knows so nobody cares.

About mid afternoon she gets a routine visit from the District Nurse to check the dressing on her leg – she scratched a bite and ended up with an infection. The DN is cheerful and efficient. She has no idea that Bessie is feeling off or confused. Bessie makes sure she had a cup of tea but does not like to bother the busy nurse with her problems – ‘just old age my dear’. So the DN does not know so she cannot care – which she might if she did.

It’s about 6pm. Bessie normally sits down to Corrie. The remote is not where she thought she left it. As she turns to look for it she suddenly gets a wobbly moment and stumbles, trips over the dog and goes down hard. As she lies there for a moment, winded and shocked she suddenly remembers she had not put on her alarm pendant when she got up in the morning. And then the pain gets very sharp and she passes out. But nobody knows so nobody cares.

The next morning Mrs Desai pops around. She has brought some milk with her as she knows Bessie will need it as she did not pick it up yesterday.  There is no answer but the dog is yapping a lot and seems very excited. Mrs Desai rings the neighbour’s door bell. They shout through the letter box. The neighbour calls an ambulance and the police. They find Bessie still on the floor. She tried to get to her phone but did not make it. Now they know and now they care.

Bessie is in hospital, shocked, in pain from a fractured hip and what is more the doctors are beginning to worry about her blood pressure which seems way off . They are talking about ‘fluid retention’ whatever that means.  The hospital team are so kind and well organised. They are even talking to her about what happens when she is ready for discharge.  But that is going to be a care home for ‘a while’. And no she cannot have her Yorkie with her. Bessie is losing self confidence fast and is feeling well cared for by these nice people but confused. Let them make the decisions for me…

You can write the rest of the script. You may care but because nobody knew nobody cared until too late.

What is the alternative?


The alarm radio wakes Bessie up. That nice Sarah Montague and John Humphries. Tea. She gets out of bed and stands up on the bedside carpet. Radio 4 pauses and a quiet voice from the radio says ‘Good morning’. That’s telling her the weight sensor under the carpet has taken her weight ok. She heads off to get her dressing gown. The radio buzzes loudly and says ‘bracelet please’. She turns and removes the bracelet from the top of the radio where it has been charging (just like her toothbrush does, the nice girl who had shown her how to use it had explained). The radio is linked to a motion sensor clipped to the mattress. It keeps an eye in how well she sleeps at night – she could wear the bracelet in bed but does not like wearing her jewellery in bed – never has done.

The bracelet matches her hair nicely. She had a choice of colours and chose this. She could have had a very nice watch but she already had the one given her by Albert for their 25th and always wears it to remind her of their happy years.

She clips the bracelet on and it vibrates gently on her wrist and a green light glows three times. So it is working and ready to go. It is waterproof so she does not have to take it off in the shower or bath. And if she presses and holds the side of it then it acts as an alarm – although when she tripped over the dog in the garden a few weeks ago the phone had rung and she was able to get to into the house to reassure the  girl on the phone that she was ok. It was nice to know that if she had fallen and been unconscious, the bracelet would have picked up the fall and someone would have been around very quickly if they had not been able to get her on the phone. The battery lasts about a month on the bracelet without needing to be recharged.

She heads downstairs to let the dog out and make her morning cup of tea. The bracelet vibrates 6 times and flashes. A reminder for her to take her pills. She presses the side of it briefly to stop it. She is wearing the bracelet on her right hand as she is right handed.   When she takes her pills the bracelet knows the hand/arm movements linked to opening her pill bottle and will not remind her again until the next set are due.

 Back to bed for the rest of the Today programme, dog on bed with her sharing the cup of tea of course. Then dressed and downstairs for breakfast.

The postman has just delivered the mail and she rescues the brown envelope from the dog before it gets eaten. She looks forward to this – it is her weekly update card. She likes to share it with the nurse and the doctor when she sees them and with her daughter when she visits. It tells her if she is taking enough exercise each week, how her weight is doing, how well she is remembering to take her pills (that one is always 100% apart from the odd evening when Elsie comes around and has a sherry or two). It also tells her about her sleep and because she has a slightly dodgy heart it tells her how that is doing as well  (her bracelet has two silver contacts in the band next to the skin that check her ECG). Because she asked when it was set up for her it also compares how she is doing with other women of her age and background.

Bessie prefers paper – she can stick it on the fridge and show it to her friends. She was asked if she wanted it on her TV or her phone but just liked the thought of the nice coloured card with big writing and clever diagrams coming through her letterbox once a week. She can let her daughter get a copy on her phone if she wants – but is not ready for that yet! She does let the local surgery get an update if anything happens that is out of the ordinary and  she does know that if anything changes then someone will ring her up and to have a chat to see how she is feeling.

A couple of months ago someone had rung from the surgery and asked her to come and see the doctor, or he would come out and see her. It seemed that her weight was going up a bit even though she was ok for exercise and her heart was having one or two ‘moments’ even though she had not noticed it. So the doctor and seen her, done some tests and then adjusted her medication. There had been no problems since then and to be frank she had not realised there was anything wrong.

It even reminded her to go and see the podiatrist when someone had rung up and asked her if she was having difficulty walking properly. And yes she had but had decided to be stoical instead. So she rang and made an appointment.
The girl who had set it up for her explained that the bracelet, weight sensor and motion sensor on the bed all took a while to learn about what was her normal routine was and what the normal rhythm of her body was. She had a few calls early on just asking if she was ok and what she had been doing so they could make sure the system was working properly but it only took a couple of weeks and she had enjoyed talking to Jason who was responsible for ‘setting her up’. Now it all seemed to working well.

 Once a month someone would ring her up to see how she was doing, they would have her information to hand and give her some advice if perhaps she was falling behind on exercise or she had forgotten to take her pills. For example she used to only walk to the shop once a week for her shopping but they had suggested that if the weather was good why not split the shop and go twice a week instead. And she knows her local surgery will always have access to her information whenever she needs to go in.

Her friend Jeannie had one as well. She had Parkinson’s and she swore by it as it could tell before she could if she was about to ‘have a turn’ and she could take her medicine or the doctor would call.

Bessie’s grandson, Jasper, had diabetes. When he had seen her bracelet he had got himself one. He used it to set himself exercise targets for his running and mountain biking. But he had showed her the small scar on his wrist where they had put in a tiny chip the size of a grain of rice that sat underneath his bracelet and constantly monitored his blood glucose and sent it through the bracelet to his smartphone. He shares his information with friends – they put it all on Facebook but Bessie would not be holding with that sort of thing – who else might see it?

There is however one looming issue – the monitoring service has just alerted her GP that Bessie’s patterns of daily living are beginning to become more variable and that this pattern fits the pattern seen in other users who are exhibiting the signs of the onset of dementia. The doctor sighs and reaches for the phone…..

So what could make the difference?

It’s all out there now. It’s rarely the technology however that is the barrier. It is the ability to think radically about the service model and to deliver it. In this case the ability to bring together hardware, software, great design, the extended client access provided by the internet and service models that combine to

  • significantly improve health and fitness,
  • reduce the need for access to health services,
  • create the opportunity for more peer and relative assisted support,
  • allow health and care services to more effectively manage and support patients and users and
  • to deploy resources more appropriately.
  • generate a long term health and wellbeing benefit for the user
  • a long term profitable business model for service providers based on the scale and reach provided by internet based services.

The power of the system is in its predictive ability – the ability to predict and avoid deterioration leading to the need for more intensive and costly support, the social marketing methodologies that are used to engage and motivate users to participate in more healthy activities. The challenge is to develop a service that is agile in responding to these ‘signals’ and preventing deterioration rather than being reactive and leaving it to the point of onset and crisis.

The tech hardware

  • Sensing Bracelet – growing range in health and fitness market. Example is Fitbit Flex
  • Sensing Watch – an example is Vivago’s product which is well designed, easy to wear and is actually a watch and a sophisticated alarm and monitoring device with a three month battery life and fully waterproof. The forthcoming Apple iWatch is rumoured to be designed to be a platform for many of these sort of services.
  • Weight pad – the carpet lies over a weight sensor which uses a wired link to the DAB radio. Bessie could use a set of electronic scales but that requires additional balance and she has to remember to use them.
  • Bed motion sensor – the motion sensor is a wired link to the DAB radio. If Bessie wore her bracelet or watch in bed that would work as well. The sensor monitors sleep, restlessness and of course getting up in the night
  • Cardiac ECG Monitor – a single channel iPhone mounted unit is already available in the UK from AliveCor (through Amazon). Trials of wrist band based sensors (watch strap mounted) are already taking place using similar technology.
  • Both the bracelet and watch send data to receiving units around the house. When out of the house they can either store data for forwarding on return, link through a smartphone (in which case GPS data is also available) or through a dedicated 3G and GPS transmitter device that fits in a handbag or on a key ring.
  • Receiving Units – Charging and relay stations – Bessie has chosen to have DAB radios with induction charging pads for her bracelet. The Radios also contain their own motion sensors able to detect motion within the room in which they are placed. The radios relay data from the wearable to a base station. Extending coverage and range in the house simply requires a small device that plugs directly and discretely into an electrical socket. All receiving units can operate on battery power for up to 48 hours.
  • Routing Unit. Bessie has a choice of units. They can connect using broadband, a 3G sim, or in Bessie’s case as her devices are provided by her utility company, through her Smart Meter. All units can operate for 72 hours on battery power if required.

The software

Handling the data is the key, the ability to analyse the flow of data and identify significant deviations from routine patterns or identifying gentler trends over time. The aim is to develop effective predictive monitoring which allows early intervention and prevention linked to feedback to the user designed to encourage behaviour changes and links to service providers able to respond to the more urgent events and risks.

As evidence grows we will find that there are relatively few things we have to monitor to give us good early warning for most people – principally activity (exercise and daily rhythms of living), weight, ECG and anything related to management of a specific condition such as diabetes, COPD or asthma for example. The key is reliable longitudinal data monitoring and sophisticated predictive analysis.

  • A very good non-health example is O-Sys which monitors Rolls Royce engines 24/7 globally
  • Vivago, a Finnish firm, has also developed and tested in use a range of sophisticated algorithms and alerting tools linked to a cloud based service model.
  • is a predictive monitoring start-up based around a smartphone
  • Within Acute settings recognition of the deteriorating patient using Early Warning Scores is well evidenced.
  • Sports medicine and sports telemetry are all well developed users of wearable sensors and sophisticated analytics
  • And of course NSA and GCHQ are in this business as well!


The service model

Bessie’s service is provided through a major regional domiciliary care provider. This provides the staff both to visit and to call Bessie when needed. The domiciliary care provider itself has a contract with a European service provider which provides the technology and software platform – all they have to do is purchase or lease the kit, create an account on a web-based system for their clients and set it up according to each client’s preferences. Training is provided on-line and through accredited trainers. But customers for the system include GP surgeries, CCGs, Nursing and Care Home chains. Health insurance companies are also using the system extensively giving discounts on insurance to customers who regularly meet their activity and health-living targets (the equivalent of the black box offered for drivers by motor insurers). The Pharma industry is also using it as part of clinical trials.

This domiciliary care provider has also chosen the option of an automated routing system for its care workers. Every morning their workers get a schedule of clients to visit on their iPad together with system generated reports based on monitoring, latest visit notes and a consumables list. They also have a GPS navigator for the car which has the routing for the day, tracks their progress and if they are delayed will generate messages to the clients next on their list that they are running late.

Individuals can also subscribe direct to the monitoring service and pay for it themselves.  The basic ‘Bronze Service’ includes reporting, advice and feedback via smartphone or tablet, TV, PC or paper plus a falls alarm which alerts nominated relatives or neighbours. The ‘Silver Service’ provides access to monthly live discussions with advisors via phone, FaceTime or Skype as well as enhanced reporting options and the ability for you to let relatives or carers see those parts of your record that you choose to share – this might include the GP surgery (there is an integration option with the most common GP systems). Gold Service provides more frequent advice and support and is designed for those with more advanced and complex Long Term Conditions which require more frequent support and more complex monitoring. All service levels include an alert mechanism (a text or call) that prompts you to seek urgent medical advice should the system detect significant changes in your ‘life’ pattern.

What else…..? Add to the jigsaw.